Hungary PM says European conservatives losing influence, flags new party grouping

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban holds an international news conference in Budapest, Hungary, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The European People’s Party, the European parliament’s umbrella centre-right bloc, is losing influence as it has shifted toward liberal and centrist policies which needs to change, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday.

“If the European People’s Party is unable to change course, then a new initiative will be needed in European politics, a new direction,” Orban told a news conference.

“If we cannot achieve this change within the People’s Party, then we will present a new initiative in European party life, because we need to create a counterweight to the rise of (French President Emmanuel) Macron’s movement,” Orban said.

The EPP suspended membership of Orban’s Fidesz party last year over concern about Orban’s populist anti-immigration campaigns and erosion of the rule of law, freedom of the press and minority rights under his tenure.

Orban said the question was whether his ruling Fidesz would be able to have an impact on the EPP’s future direction and in the coming weeks this will become clearer.

Orban, a staunch opponent of mass immigration to Europe from the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, said the EPP should return to its conservative roots on issues of immigration, the traditional family model and the supremacy of national culture.

He declined comment on whether this meant he would try to forge a new conservative group within the European Parliament, however, he noted that he had met with his Polish ally, ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski this week.

The EPP has said it would send a group of “wise men” to investigate conditions in Hungary and decide whether to keep Fidesz among its ranks, a process that new EPP Chairman Donald Tusk expects to close by the end of January.

Orban said he had not seen any document drawn up by the panel and did not know whether such a document existed.

Reporting by Marton Dunai and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Toby Chopra